Minolta 600mm f4 Review/ Real life feedback

If you are into photography and not completely focused on wide angle lenses there are chances you have looked at the Pro Sports Photographers and their Giant Lenses along the field or seen them at photo exhibits or stores.

I had fantasized about these lenses for a long time but had no justification to get one. And probably not enough skills to actually use one. 2 years ago I did miss the chance to buy the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 for a great price. This list is still on my wish list and eBay alert if any is ever sold online.

I already own the 70-200 f2.8 and the 70-400 f4-5.6 from Sony. This puts me on equal range with Nikon shooters and their 70-200 and the 2x tel-converter. My range is actually a bit wider and faster on the low end.

The new Sony 300mm f2.8 and 500mm f4 are superb lenses and I could take advantage of the Depth assist auto-focus. They are also extremely pricey lenses. The “only” other alternative for Sony is the Sigma 500mm f4, slightly longer and a little more light than my 70-400 but not much.

I saw a Minolta 600mm f4 AF-high speed on ebay for a very low price and decided to bid for it. To make the story short the lens sold for 6,300$ way above what I was willing to pay. I had looked around and KEH had one on sale for 6,000$. I had bought lenses from them before in great condition. As soon as the auction ended I did call up and bought the lens right there. My excuse was that I had full access pass  to take pictures of the football / soccer game friendly game between Spain and Chile.

The Lens was delivered as promised in the Original case. The first reaction is the weight of this lens. It is really, really heavy. The usual comment of people who used this lens : “built like and tank and weights like one”. This pretty much sums it up about how heavy this lens really is.

dsc02982_v1_1The big box

dsc02983_v1_1First look at the monster

Taking it out of the Box I tried to hand hold it. Before even taking the first picture I attached my mono-pod to the lens. The first picture was of a tree. The amount of details was just amazing. Things I could hardly see with my eyes where now in full details on the display

The next day the lens was used for the football game between Spain and Chile. I know never practice with new gear at a big event, well I learn fast and it worked out. My practice shots on the warmup . Very first picture was in focus, somehow I did underestimate the focal length. This was from the goal line to a player in the middle of the field

Spain - ChileSpain - Chile

The first question was how slow can I get an still get somewhat decent pictures ?

Spain - ChileXavi at 1/250s after they almost had the 2nd goal scored against Spain by Chile

Spain - Chile1/160s for action moving sideways half a field away. There is motion blur. If it was static I could probably y get away with it.


More pictures from the Spain match. Reviewing the pictures after the game I was amazed about how good they looked. The shallow depth of field, Minolta colors, I was really marveling about how good these pictures look. Focus is tricky at times with central focus point. My miss ratio is still very low overall.

Me on the goal line focusing on the game with the big lens. It does definitely turn heads when I take it out. Even for such a game I was on the very long side. And to be honest there are not many Sony shooter for pro sports.

Espagne vs Chili 2-2

After the initial results turned out pretty well. I knew the lens would be too long for ice hockey. For that a 400mm f4 would be a better option. For the next soccer game I had mixed feelings about taking the big lens along. I loved the  results but carrying it around is more than mildly annoying.Having to shoot both the game and crowd the lens can get into the way.

Finally the quality of the pictures did win and I did take the lens along anyway. I found other photographers to look at the lens when I was running around with the 2 shorter lenses.

After game 2, I love how close I get to the action. This lens has also helped with my other lens. with the 70-400 I am now shooting tighter as well. This lens is great for shooting low, my mono-pod does seem a little high at times. Any action closer than the mid-field has to be composed in portrait ( really tricky) closer than 20 meters I need to switch to another lens.

Speaking of switching lens I am still working on a good way to switch from the monster to the regular lenses. It is not all that easy with such a heavy and expensive piece of equipment.

Update 2013/10/30

The camera has now its own bag a lowepro trekker where I can store the lens with actually a body attached and the Manfroto 393 not the prettiest head but it seems functional. I have not had a chance to take it to the field yet.


Minolta 600mm f4 Review/ Real life feedback — 18 Comments

  1. I have the Manfrotto 393 and am contemplating purchasing the 600mm. Have you tried it on that head and how well does that combination work?
    I have a Sony a99 (full frame) and a77ii (APS-C). I also have the Sony 70-400G.

    Any regrets with the lens purchase? What camera are you using?

  2. Hi Tom, the Manfroto 393 works great with the Minolta 600mm once you balance it correctly. It makes the whole thing a little bulk but it fits perfectly in my Lowepro Lens trecker http://www.amazon.com/Lowepro-Lens-Trekker-600-AW/dp/B001H37NJA/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1424714576&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=Lowepro+Lenstrecker&tag=klausbinder-20.

    I have also the 70-400G. I use mainly my Sony A99 I own the a77 but that is a backup or 3rd camera with a remote.
    The 600 mm is a lovely lens if you get the hi speed version. very fast, at times a little soft but easy to fix in post. AF is pretty good for such an old lady. Sure I would love the same features like on the 70-200 or 70-400 where you can limit the af range.
    Drawback things have to be pretty far away for sports in many cases I am just too close with that lens, you need a really steady hand.I have done very little wildlife with it and you need clean air. you will notice dust, …. Also this is a big beast to carry around the case is pretty much useless.
    I would be tempted to replace my manfroto with this head if it was not so expensive lenscoat uniqball http://www.lenscoat.com/uniqball-ballhead-p-2261.html

  3. Hi Chris,
    Not sure i get your question. This lens has no filter in the front of the lens. It is simply too wide for that. The hood is permanently attached and can not be removed it only slides in/out and does get stuck a few times.
    There are small filters at the rear of the the lens. this are actual glass filters with a 42mm diameter. I always leave the white UV filter in there only for dusk on moon shots I may use one of the colored filters. I hope this answers your question of not please feel free to ask.

  4. Both my minolta 400 and 600mm lenses came with a clear glass lens protector that screws on in front of the front element. The 600mm protector ways close to 2 pounds. I’ve been told it’s part of the optical equation but the manual just calls it a protector.

  5. The 600mm comes standard with the huge clear protector (154.5 mm). I have used my lens only a few times and have used it in place. I have often read that some of these filter elements in front of the main lens can cause flare. That may not be an issue with such a magnification, the sun angle is very sharp if it is in the shot. Something I should test out in the future. The hood should be used on sunny days and that should reduce potential issues too. Per the instruction manual,the huge protection filter is not described as being part of the optical equation but the 42 mm filters are. The 42mm should be used for optimal performance.

  6. Interesting, mine did not come with that clear protector when I bought it used. I use the lens mostly for sports and always use the hood even when there is no sun it seems that stadium lighting causes some strange effects.
    Love this lens but definitely not my go to lens.

  7. To realistgva, you mentioned in an earlier post that you would like the AF limiter as with the 70-400. You do have that capability with the 600mm. You can limit from min focal distance to a mid-value, or a mid-value to infinity. More control than the SAL70-400. Additionally, you have that capability in the a99 body.

  8. Tom, I should have been more specific I am aware of the af range limiter on the Lens however the AF Range limiter feature of A99 body does not work with the 600mm lens. Actually it works only with a very limited selection of lenses. The Rule of thumb it must be really expensive and either white or have a blue logo on the side.
    Sony has a special AF-D mode and this works with my 70-200, 70-400 and I think the 24-70Zeiss and 135mm Zeiss all my other lenses can not use the af-d mode and the range limiter button on the back does not work. Also the lenses need to be of the never generation. it works with the new 300 and 400 but they are way out of my price range for a nice to have lens
    I use it the game to tell the AF to ignore the ref that may walk in front of me.

  9. Thank you for the information on the focus limiter on the a99. I have the SAL70-400 and maybe that is be where I saw it work. I tried the feature last night on my Minolta 400 and 600 lenses and nothing happened so I assumed I was doing something wrong.

  10. I don’t own one, but I want to.

    I drool over the thought of the reach of this lens, but I do wonder about it’s age.

    I’m not very knowledgeable about such things, but I wonder if this old lens is being left behind by the capability of the new cameras??

    I have a Sony a65, and am quite new to the game, but love it. I am not doing much else but birding.

    My concerns have a few directions…

    Does the lens suit a crop sensor?

    Would the Sigma/Tamron 150-600 be a more viable choice for future bodies.
    (Even though I love my primes).

    Will modern camera bodies leave it behind?

    I have the Minolta 300mm 2.8, which works very well for me at the moment, and I really appreciate the wide aperture.

    If I spend the money on the Minolta 600mm, will it stay reasonably relevant as the cameras progress over the next few years?
    Understanding that my ability will never justify the Sony 500 f4.

    I would greatly appreciate wise words from people who understand.

    Thank you.

  11. Hi Tim,

    The 600mm is a grand mother, the original was made in 1983 and the fast version was made from 1988 to 1993. Mine is one of the later ones made in 1993.

    I have it on my Sony A99 and I also own the A77, I hardly use the A77 anymore the a99 is just so much better. Today with the 24mpx full frame sensor it is a lovely lens. There is also a downside to 600mm the subject is pretty far away and atmospheric issues like, moist, heat and dust can all be a major issue. Also you need lots of light if you want a fast shutter speed

    It is not all that easy to work with that monster. Like you I could never justify the 500mm f4. Carrying is cumbersome and cleaning the front element a real nightmare. However when I show up with it I get a lot of looks and respect :))

    I am not a big fan of the 150-600. I own the 70-400 this is a lovely lens, it can be a pain to work with.

    The 2 lenses I would buy if I found one or if they existed. The Sigma 120-300 f2.8. I decided to pass it up when it came up and regret it every day. They are impossible to find used.
    I really want sony to make a 200-400mm f4. If Sony made that lens I would not ask about the price and order it right away.

    There are no bad lenses out there. Some are just not right or ideal for the job. I know people droll over the 600mm, I am glad that I did buy one when I got a chance. But to be honest I only use it a few times every year.

    I hope this helps you.

  12. Thanks very much for your comments.
    I have the original silver Sony 70-400 f4-5.6, which I use a lot, but do miss the 2.8 aperture of the Minolta 300.

    I would like the extra reach because I shoot very small birds, but also want the bigger aperture, because they always seem to hanging around in awkward places.

    Looks like it’s back honing the stalking skills.


  13. Tim in this case my guess is that you will not be very happy with the Sigma/Tamron.
    I have a love / hate relationship with my 70-400 some days it works great and the next day it may just be a real pain

  14. Hello
    I do own a sony a99ii and a 70-400G (the first version, but the 2nd is optically the same)
    As I do love to do birdphotography, I would like to own and longer lens.
    Do you think the 600mm F4 of Minolta is good enough and worth its price?
    As I tried the Tamron 150-600, I was very disapointed and I did resale it after a few monthes…
    I’m expecting a quality as good as the quality of the incredible 70-400G of Sony, and I don’t know what think about the Minolta 600/4
    Thanks for your advice en return!

  15. Hello Pierik,
    I also own the A99II and the first generation 70-400G. Putting the 600mm on the A99 was really interesting. Faster than on the A99. The lens is sharp, not as sharp as the new lenses. It has that rather pleasant retro feel to the pictures and the Bokeh is really creamy and pleasant.
    The lens is not really cheap for such an old lens. However today the alternatives are the 500mm f4 for 13,000 or the 300mm f2.8 for 7,000 suddenly the lens does seem very affordable. It is a really hard decision and you have to have a real need for this lens. It does take a big commitment.
    If you buy this lens it will need it’s own bag, gimbal head, lens cover just in case. The lens is also super heavy to carry around. Cleaning the lens is the worst part the front element is so big it does take for ever, I usually spend about 1 hour to clean the front.
    I had a look at your pictures(they are awesome) not sure the 600 would help except for birds and maybe safari. Most of the time i have bot the 600 and 70-400 and spend more time with the 70-400 with the A99 there is enough room crop and still have a big file.

    I know the 600mm is kind of a dream lens like maybe a fancy sports car, yes really nice but for a very specific and limited use. On the plus side with the 600mm lens you will never be alone it attracts people who want to talk to you, you may like the attention you bet, however some times it can be rather annoying when you try to get a job done.

    I hope this helps. If you ever come to Geneva let me know and you can try it. maybe not for a walk around the city 😉

  16. I have owned the 600mm for a year and a half. It has made my birding more enjoyable. I recently purchased the a99ii and they work well together. I often use the Minolta 1.4 converter and notice no degradation in quality.

    You need a solid tripod and gimbal head. I use a Feisol carbon fiber tripod and a Manfrotto 393. I recently bought a Lensmaster RH-2 and it works well with that too. I also purchased a large Lowepro backpack for it.

    I often use my Jeep to travel in wildlife refuges and that allows me to setup quickly at a shooting site. The hiking can be a bit strenuous if you are out of shape. The camera and lens weigh 15 lbs.

    Once I am setup for birding the combination is a pleasure to use. The gimbal allows for effortless movement of the camera. The pictures come out well. I have some recent photos of osprey that are from 250 feet away that are wall-hangers.

    There is some purple fringing at high contrast edges that you can usually filter out with post-processing.

    I like the focus limiter system. I do not feel keeping the front element clean is a chore, I rarely have done it. Dust particles will not impact the photos. I only takes a few minutes with a microfiber cloth and lens cleaner.

    One thing I notice with the primes versus the 70-400 is the bokeh of the 70-400 can be very harsh at times. I am thinking of getting rid of it and using a 300mm f/2.8 in its place. I also own the Minolta 400mm.

  17. Hello !
    Thanks for your answer and sorry for my late answer back!
    Maybe you could, if you want, answer through my personnal mail adress!?
    Very happy to read your comments !
    You mean the 600 was faster on the A99II than on the A99 ? I just got this morning a Sigma 1.4x converter, and it seems very good ! I tried it with the Sony 70-400G and the result seem to be very good, even if the AF doesn’t work very well ! Do you now if you keep the AF with the Sigma 1.4x on the Minolta 600mm?
    Hence, right now, I’m lost! Between the Sigma 500/4.5, the Minolta 600/4 and the Sigma 800/5.6, I’ve no idea of which one would be the best!
    Thanks a lot for your compliment! I’m glad to read it from you! 
    I would like to « be better » in bird-photography ! And I’m quite new… So I just try to find the good lens to do it !
    I would be glad to meet you and even to try your lens! Maybe I’ll come soon in Geneva!
    Thanks once again for your answer and wish you all the best

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